The science is clear: meditation is powerful stuff. One practice for a better body, mind and mood. Benefits include improved immunity, better sleep, stronger memory, greater impulse control and a clearer mental focus. In addition, studies also show meditation can reduce blood pressure and even help manage anxiety and depression.
Keen to start? Here are 5 things to bear in mind.
1. Meditation is about awareness not emptiness
A common misconception is that meditation means emptying the mind. Striving for this impossibility is a sure way to get frustrated and give up quickly. Rather than emptying the mind, meditation is about focus and awareness.
There are many types of meditation (see point 3) and most involve directing your awareness to an aspect of the present moment. It might be a focus on the breath, parts of the body, a mantra, an object or sometimes a more general awareness of presence. When thoughts arise, or you notice the mind wandering, patiently bring your awareness back to the focus.
With regular practice, meditators might start to glimpse more moments of stillness when the thoughts begin to settle. However, the experience of meditation (especially when you start out) will be refocusing your attention over and over again. That’s ok. It doesn’t mean you suck at it. That’s what mediation is: a practice, not a state of mind.
2. Meditation isn’t easy – be patient
Focusing our awareness in meditation isn’t easy. Our modern brains are distracted every two minutes: friends, family, bosses, businesses all have a lot of ways to reach us. Whether it’s through our smart phones, laptops, adverts, radio or the TV, everyone wants our attention and they want it all day long.
This abundance of communication technology means constant interruption. As a result, we find keeping focused attention more difficult. That’s why meditation is hard and that’s why it’s so important.
It’s easy to feel frustrated. Your thoughts just won’t stop. ‘I’m no good at this’ you think, ‘I can’t focus at all, I might as well give up!’ Patience my friend. Remember, meditation is a practice, not a state of mind. And, just because you don’t think it’s getting any easier doesn’t mean you aren’t reaping the benefits.
3. There are lots of ways to meditate
Do a google search on meditation and it’s easy to be overwhelmed. From Vipassana, to Transcendental Meditation (TM), to Mindfulness, Zen and guided meditation: there are many ways to meditate.
If you have time, do a little research and see what you like the sound of. Or check if there are any groups near you doing taster sessions. Try out a few styles and see what suits you best. Once you’ve found one you get on with, stick with it. The best kind of meditation is the one that works for you.
If you just want to get stuck in, read this post on 5-minute mindfulness. It’s a short Vipassana/Mindfulness style practice which you could easily build into a longer session. Or, check out Headspace for some great guided meditation.
4. You don’t have to sit in lotus to meditate
The typical picture of meditation is someone cross-legged on the floor, maybe even in the lotus position. If sitting like this feels like hell, don’t do it! You may need to become used to new physical sensations when you meditate, but you shouldn’t put up with pain. Being very uncomfortable is another quick route to quitting and could even cause an injury.
If sitting cross-legged feels ok – go for it. Bring your spine tall and relax your shoulders. Try sitting on a cushion or yoga blocks to help you sit straight and try cushions or blankets under the knees to ease strain in the hips
Another option is to use a chair. Ideally, your back should be upright and self-supported. Sitting up straight keeps the body relaxed but alert, making it easier for the mind to be relaxed and alert.
5. Start small but make it a habit
5 minutes a day is a great place to start:. Find the most convenient time to slot it into your day and set yourself a reminder.
Once you feel ready you can slowly start to increase your practice. Perhaps 10 minutes a day, 20 minutes, or even two sessions.
Making meditation a daily habit is great, but if it’s not realistic for you yet, start at the weekends or a few times a week. Good times to schedule a session are when you have the house to yourself or can sneak away to somewhere quiet.
Most of all, don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon. No need to give up completely if you miss a session. Remind yourself why meditation is important to you and just get back to it when you can.
Give it a go and let me know how you get on. If you’re meditating already, share your experiences, things you’re finding difficult or any benefits you’re noticing in the comments section below.